County cancels Irricana wildland firefighter project
Rocky View County Fire Services (RVCFS) announced on June 5 that the proposed Community Wildland Firefighter Pilot Program for Irricana has been cancelled due to a lack of interest by area residents.
The program was announced on April 30, following public criticism of RVCFS’ response to an April 2 structure fire at Township Road 264 and Range Road 262 that spread quickly to surrounding grasslands and threatened nearby homes.
“I am disappointed with the lack of response because I personally thought the program had merit and legs,” said Fire Chief Ken McMullen, adding it is especially disappointing after dedicating time and resources to develop the program. “But if the community is quick to complain but doesn’t step up, there’s not much more we can do.”
The full-day course was designed to explain the rules and regulations by which RVC firefighters must abide, as well as the gear required and the rationale for needing specific equipment. Once certified, the volunteers would have been able report to an incident commander at the scene of a wildland fire and participate in controlling the blaze.
McMullen said he understands that people have busy lives and may not have time to volunteer. However, he said he is frustrated that residents would criticize the work of volunteer firefighters and not make an effort themselves.
“They were certainly there to say they were unhappy, but not one stepped forward to assist,” he said. “We had 40 people attend each of the meetings that we held, and to have not one of those individuals step forward is very sad. Obviously, they are available because they showed up, so why would they not take the training to be of benefit to their own community?”
After the program was announced, RVCFS sent out a call for applications and held two meetings to allow the public and those with concerns to speak with firefighters or sign up for the program.
A minimum of 12 qualified applicants was required to get the program off the ground, and while 12 applications were received, they all came from outside Irricana’s response area.
“We received 11 applications from Airdrie and one from Crossfield, but the people who live (in Irricana) didn’t volunteer,” said McMullen.
“The problem with having people coming from Airdrie or Crossfield is that they’re 45 minutes away from attending, and when you give a grassfire 45 minutes, especially with wind, it becomes a moot point (if extra firefighters) attend or not.”
McMullen said several fire departments within the county use volunteers, adding that Redwood Meadows, Crossfield, Madden, Irricana and Langdon’s departments are comprised solely of volunteers.
“Towns aren’t what they used to be, with people commuting in and out,” he said.
“There are periods of time when we don’t have availability. The idea of this program was to help bridge that gap, to allow us to ensure we are not working with minimum crews, who have to provide multiple functions when they’re undermanned.”
McMullen said the lack of willing volunteers is also a problem for rural fire stations. He commended the men and women who give their time and risk their lives to ensure the safety of their neighbours.
“We understand the commitment and time required to be a volunteer firefighter, and I respect that and am appreciative of the fact that we have such great volunteers, who are highly underappreciated a lot of the time,” he said. “There is a lot of liability and risk for these people to go out and step into a working fire situation when they’re volunteers. For members of the public to do that, and risk anything at all, is amazing to me.”